Category Archives: calcutta

Back cover copy for the 25th-anniversary edition of Rumour of Calcutta?

Highly unlikely, but if there were to be a collection of quotes for such an edition, this fine example would do very well as a back cover quote alongside the old ones. It is from a very fine-looking book by Nabaparna Ghosh – A Hygienic City-Nation: Space, Community, and Everyday Life in Colonial Calcutta 2020 Cambridge. I am excited to read the rest of the book, as I’ve only seen an early part so far. Of course, I mean the second part of this paragraph, though great to again be in the company of Arturo, and earlier Chris Pinney and others. This is on page 9:

Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.50.17

 

The book itself – out in stores soon I believe (you can have a sneaky peak and read about 20 pages on Google books).

Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.50.53Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.51.05Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.51.17
Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.50.17Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.51.05Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 22.51.17

 

two Bengals

Somewhere I have a photograph of a piece of graffiti from Kolkata in the early 1990s. It shows three palms behind a brick wall on which is painted “Like the two Germany’s Bengal should be reunited”. (Cannot find it right now but will post it when I do).Of course, there is other news from India today, tragic violence in Delhi, a buffoon invited a buffoon to address 100,000 and other atrocities, but the good news was buried on page 6 as usual, and yes I know that is not what this railways initiative means, but 150 metres of track to go sounds like a useful development (for the record, the first partition of Bengal was proposed in 1905 and resisted, the second in 1947 we call partition and it was brutal, with ongoing effects, not least on the Jute Industry which lurched from collapse to collapse). Now this minor item of return.

From the telegraph today 22 Feb 2020

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 11.18.23

Is it the wrong time to say Make Bengal Great Again, and get some hats?

Of course, there already is a hat – but it is from Cincinnati…

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 11.29.49

Sundarbans, Climate, Tigers, Law.

Liquidity of the Sundarbans:

If the Tigers and Cyclones Don’t Get You, the Law Will

This forms the first part of a new research concentration for me, and owes much to colleagues at Jadavpur Uni now battling the BJP monstrosity. This sort of work relies upon the University remaining an open, critical, creative and thinking place. And such works as discussed here – more than three, a whole series of works are considered, reaching back to when I first met the history and philosophy folks at Jadavpur – are indicative of what remains that is good in the university, despite all that is happening.

50 e-prints for those quick off the mark, here: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/AVPTDBBTQNKUBBVHPHSV/full?target=10.1080/00856401.2019.1663884

 

Screen Shot 2019-09-24 at 08.57.06

Jadavpur University and the pecuniary investment jealousy rag (need some infrastructure surely).

I don’t have cause to say so often enough, but I consider Jadavpur a second alma mater for me (just as second breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so is what I have learned at Jadavpur over 30 years sustaining). There is a long background behind this below, but those with the ability to read between the lines can make the necessary analytic dot joinings…

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 19.32.59

 

In a widely shared post on FB Somak Mukherjee writes passionately about what is being done to Jadavpur:

Friends and colleagues there [at JU]; I applaud your sense of integrity and courage. Stay safe. The machinery of politics is not merely random and arbitrary, but peculiarly random in its vengeful rhetoric.

Absolutely wonderful to see a large turnout yesterday for the protest procession. Current or former students, kudos to you.

A humble request in anticipation of a rising narrative, maliciously aimed at the students community of the university: that Jadavpur’s “aimless and disorganized environment/ politics” is the result of a decline in academic standard”. This rhetoric will find a large following/support in a rising section of Bengali bourgeoisie welcoming unprecedented cultural regression in our city/state. Political IT cells will ensure this narrative finds wide currency in tv shouting matches/whatsapp forwards/facebook communities.

Nothing is further from the truth. Students/teachers/scholars there already know this. But please combat this narrative with consistency and conviction.

Jadavpur University is still among the top five public universities in the naton: an astonishing feat considering the comparative but consistent against state public universities in India in the last several decades. When looking at rankings, please consider the fact that IITs lack the diversity of disciplines taught here. There are Depts+schools+centers= almost 60 academic units alone in this university, outnumbering JNU. This university always punched above its weight in the national arena with a self assured recognition of being an underdog. It champions underdogs going beyond the tired binary of success/failure in meritocracy.

I had to do a little bit of research for an article about the recent academic progress of JU. Some facts:

a) Under a specific scheme of RUSA ( Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyaan) aimed at 10 state public universities, JU has been a rare exception in timely utilization of the funds disbursed in the last 4 years.

b) There are only two state public universities getting the coveted Institution of Eminence (IOE) tag: Jadavpur and Anna. If the 1000 Crores indeed get disbursed over the next five years, it can potentially double the university budget ( Proviso: this fund, apparently, cannot be allotted for additional posts: a MHRD criteria. Bizarre.) for research and overall infrastructure. Again, JU qualified despite the odds, countering indifferent and arrogant educational bureaucracy at the center. At least three major newspapers in only the last weeks have published confused and misleading news reports about 1. Amount of funding requested and, this is more crucial, 2. the proviso of state government providing the supplementary funds, attaching negative comments from state government officials. Again, apparently there is no proviso that the full funding is tied to supplementary funding from “bankrupt” state govern An independent verification and clarification of this might be useful.

3. 2018 FET placements have been astonishingly good.

Story 3 was tucked away in the corner of page 8 of a Bengali daily recently. Story 1 was hardly reported. Story 2, as I mentioned, has been reported in a confusing and self contradictory manner. My larger points: this fits a narrative of intention of the mainstream India ( English or vernacular) about which specific optics about the university should be fed to public discourse. The spectacle of passionate protest, while incredibly effective, can also take time in realizing the double edged sword of the media rhetoric. This is why the awareness of the institutional progress can be quite useful.

This university was once “unfashionably” nationalistic in pre-independence time. It did not care when critics railed against the university enrolling revolutionaries as mature students. This university employed one of the greatest 20th century Bengali poets despite his lack of formal ‘qualifications’. This university made a 25 year old founding HOD of its economics department. Then, it was made fun of for its suburban obscurity. Yet it thrived: because of its gloriously scattered intellectual currents relished the accusation of suburban subversions with delightful irony. Times changed: hell, KP took over jurisdiction. But JU remained sufficiently downmarket for the elite of the ‘proper south’ and yet marvelously dreamy for suburbia kids like myself.

I know these are deeply cynical times, but I will stick my neck out and say: best days for Jadavpur are yet to come. If you agree then good: strength of optimism can be quite revolutionary itself. If you disagree, then disregard this rant as an inevitable outcome of suburban longings. Jadavpur was never Calcutta’s university. It was/and still is, a gateway university.

Sumanta Banerjee Marx adda

In one part of the recently translated Spooky Encounters, Sumanta Banerjee chats with the picnicking ghostly Marx and Engels about Indian food in London:

‘Fish-and-chips has almost disappeared from the scene. Its exclusive position has been now taken over by chicken-tikka-kebab!’

They glanced at each other in sheer astonishment and said, ‘Really?’

Moor spoke with his usual fervour: ‘We must get to taste your food. But can we find the genuine stuff here? Most likely we will have to go to youir Calcutta to sample them.‘”

P25

I am so very pleased to see this and would have happily used it as a preface to my essay ‘Marx in Calcutta’ in City. Seems like we have always been tempting Marx with Mishti Doi:

https://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/marx-in-calcuttacity2018.pdf

The Fantasist of Calcutta has a plaque

Atrocities and alibi’s for dirty colonial deeds of the ‘robber baron’ Clive and his mates. Here is a plaque for John Zephania Holwell, who wrote his dramatically claustrophobic survivor tale several months afterwards as a kind of post-factum justification for the subsequent slaughter at Palashi. He goes on to be Governor and erects a monument to his own heroism, which survives 40 years and is forgotten until Mark Twain asks about it – thanks Mark. Pah, the monument is rebuilt – and still stands today, though moved to the grounds of the nearby church, partly because Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and crew slapped it with a  slipper, and chisels.

Hollwell plaque

Thanks to Claire who found this at King’s Guy’s Hospital. A plaque to the apologist of Palashi. I suppose it is too minor an atrocity – one among many – for the Rhodes must fall group to be deployed, but some annotation is surely necessary.

This chapter may explain why this is such an outrage. The man built a monument to his lies.

 

 

Slum tourism

I am gathering material for a review of this area and found a dissertation that discusses The Rumour of Calcutta:

“Hutnyk (1996: 10) also states that the massive tourism and infrastructure development in India and above all in the major cities might require brutal readjustment and restructuring for adapting to the West. Tourism experience in India is hybrid and mixed-up. He also suggests that without Mother Theresa and the Lonely Planet guidebook, Kolkata would have maybe been portrayed as less impoverished and run-down. Its reputation revolves around the main themes of poverty, urban decay and overcrowding (Hutnyk, 1996: 55) stemming from tourism literature, media and government and other official and institutional reports.

Slum tourism as a rather recent phenomenon in India might portray this day-to-day routine in an urban environment and might help to abolish stereotypes about the working poor, urban decay and extreme poverty. Hannam and Diekmann (2010) argue that slum tourism can nevertheless be potentially damaging for both visitors and residents if they happen on a superficial, commodified and non-mutual basis. Rolfes (2009) claims that there is only one professional and regular slum tourism operator in Mumbai which is Reality Tours. Thus, Rolfes’ (2009) analysis of tour operations in Mumbai is based on one tour operating business and might be too one-sided.

However, Hutnyk (1996) described and analysed his personal experience in Kolkata with backpacker tourists and volunteer tourists coming, watching and leaving the poor people of the city and calling their medical help and volunteering ‘sick tours’. He is one of the first to have mentioned the questionable morality that is involved once tourists come to see poor people in Third World countries already assuming the participative “voyeuristic consumption of poverty” (Hutnyk, 1996: 11) because the poor are always and unavoidably the subject of tours in India, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Almost ironically he mocks these very tourists coming to Kolkata to see ‘the extreme’ which is expected to be unusual and different to what he calls “the rumour of poverty” (Hutnyk, 1996: 20). In line with Hutnyk (1996), Hannam and Diekmann (2010) …

[Dunno if mocking is how I would describe the critique, but…]

Nevertheless, very much enjoying the thesis and hope it was turned into an article: Well done Linda Klepsch, 2010. A critical analysis of slum tours: Comparing the existing offer in South Africa, Brazil, India and Kenya,

UNIVERSITE LIBRE DE BRUXELLES
INSTITUT DE GESTION DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT ET D’AMENAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE
FACULTE DES SCIENCES

The Rumour of Calcutta – digital book

rumour-cover122 years ago my first book was typeset and laid out in the days before electronics – well, an electric typesetting machine was plugged into a wall, but no digital file was produced. Nevertheless, I had crossed out the digital rights clause in my contract with Zed so I own this. At last some kind anonymous soul has bootlegged it and set digital copy free on the nets, though its a large scanned file and the bibliography was left off (I’ve made a rough scan of the biblio but that too is a large file). Nevertheless, notwithstanding, and such like phrasings, the book is still one of which I am proud, if nothing else for trialling a way of citing tourist backpacker-informants, for its stuff on photography and maps and for the reviews it got (and indeed keeps getting discussed, for example on films – see diekmann2012) and especially for its critique of charity and what charity is for. In the context of do-gooder well-meaning hypocrisy, the effort of charity workers serves wider interests as well as their own, and only marginally any individuals they help – who would be better helped in better funded state-run facilities if the funds extracted through business-as-usual colonialism were, you know, made as reparations for the several hundred years of colonial plunder. Ah well, the critique stands up, the charity industry sadly thrives, second only perhaps to weapons in terms of so-called development, writing books does not yet always change the world as much as you’d like (and no, I did not ever think a book would single-handedly stop Mother Theresa, but…).

I would welcome new readers.

Download The Rumour of Calcutta here:  [John_Hutnyk]_The_rumour_of_Calcutta__tourism,_ch

Biblio here. Rumour biblio

And this retrieved by Toby:

Smuggling – of tea to Scotland?

The Commission of Customs Scotland to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, reporting on the subject of trade with India, in 1812, examined Earl, Osborne and Ferrier (traders) on the question of smuggling ‘tea’. The answer is instructive – smuggling will increase if EIC ships are permitted to trade in Scottish waters. That is, lets be clear, English ships smuggling ‘tea’ to Scotland. Recall that these ships mostly carry other goods than tea, but in smuggling, the trick is not to declare. Records reported elsewhere – I think in Judt, have to check back – indicated some half a million pounds worth or goods a year was ‘pilfered’ from vessels in the Thames at London – that’s half a million of the declared consignments. The need to read between the lines – what does other ‘East India Goods’ really mean, and what does it not mean? The remittances off the books was a healthy trade for, in Feldbaek’s examples, for Danish shipping out of Serampore.

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 08.37.10

Restored 18th century Danish tavern to be inaugurated today

[JH comment: now if you were plying the illicit opium trade on behalf of dodgy East India Company officials, you’d also need to stop by the Tavern and deal. I guess]

DanishTavernopenFrom; The Milennium Post

by Nandini Guha | 28 Feb 2018 12:20 AM

http://www.millenniumpost.in/kolkata/restored-18th-century-danish-tavern-to-be-inaugurated-today-287209

Kolkata: An 18th Century Danish tavern that was in ruins, has been finally restored into a 120-seater café and lodge overlooking the Ganges at Serampore, by the Ministry of Tourism and the Government of Denmank. The heritage property will be inaugurated on Wednesday by Indranil Sen, the minister of state for Tourism and several ambassadors representing the Nordic countries. The tavern dates back to 1786. Restoration work was taken up by heritage architect Manish Chakraborti and his team in 2015. “A lot of European vessels used to ply on the river during that time. They used to spend a night in transit at the tavern. When we took over restoration though, it was in ruins. The roof had collapsed and there was debris everywhere. Now the old building has been restored to its old classical beauty,” Chakraborti told Millennium Post. The cost of restoration has been borne by the National Museum of Denmark (Rs 3.5 crore) and the state Tourism Department (Rs 1.5 crore). The Tourism Department is presently looking for an operator to run the café and it is expected that it will be fully operational in a month. “The important thing is that the government is investing in a heritage building that has now been converted into a reusable commercial space. As far as the menu is concerned, the operator has to keep in mind that this is Serampore and not Park Street. The pricing could be similar to cafes like Flury’s or Mrs Magpie. And of course, it will be a boost for the state’s tourism prospects,” added Chakraborti. Chakraborti had earlier won a UNESCO award for restoring the 200 year old St Olaf’s Church in Serampore, again an initiative of the Government of Denmark and the West Bengal government.

http://www.millenniumpost.in/kolkata/restored-18th-century-danish-tavern-to-be-inaugurated-today-287209

Statues – 1970 Kolkata.

Mrinal Sen’s great film Interview begins with a few shots of the removal of colonial statues from the Maidan in Calcutta, shipped off to a closed space in Barrackpur Cantonment. You can enable the player here and watch the film (and so many others, its a treat):

https://indiancine.ma/grid/year/year==1970&language==Bengali&productionCompany==Mrinal_Sen_Productions

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 21.49.30

City Requiem, outwitting paralysis to find ways to write anyway

Am pretty sure this page below is a kind of compliment, though it is an uneasy one. As I have said directly, never meant for there not to be many more inscriptions – how could I be the one to hold back the delude (apres moi?). Of course there should never be no reason to stop writing, just sometimes we could stop anthropologising (a moratorium on fieldwork!) and I always hope to write better, a forlorn task. Stereotypes-stereohypes, they keep getting back up again:

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 15.04.18

From the book by Ananya Roy 2003 “City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty” Uni of Minnesota Press, which, despite my being cast as the paralyser, also ends with some beautiful lines that capture what I to was trying to do: ‘ my narrative of the city … can only be one of multiple and irreconcilable iterations’ Ananya Roy. As I think was expressed already in Ashis Nandy’s comment on the back cover of ‘The Rumour’.